From Sith Lord to Jesuit

Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield in "Silence"

2016 was a good year for the Jesuits. In what other year would The Ringer declare “Jesuit Priests” Pop Culture winners? Sorry/not sorry, Taylor Swift.

We can thank Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver for some of that cred. Both actors have been making the rounds sharing their experiences from Martin Scorsese’s new film Silence. Driver says that his role as a young Jesuit priest in the Oscar-contending film resonated with him on a deep spiritual level — although he didn’t go so far as to make the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius like costar Andrew Garfield.

“I guess when we initially talked about it, the idea of the anguish of faith just seemed to make sense,” Driver said during a Q&A panel with the movie’s cast and crew.

Silence, based on Shusako Endo’s historical novel of the same name, takes place during the anti-Christian persecution of Jesuit missionaries under the xenophobic Tokugawa shogunate. Scorsese cast Driver as a young Portuguese Jesuit who finds that the catechism approach to Catholicism fails to prepare him for the impossible moral decisions that await him in feudal Japan.

Asked about his journey of “deep faith and belief” while making the film, Driver added that although he was “raised in a very religious household,” he felt the story’s theme of spiritual anguish applied to any kind of relationship dilemma — whether between parents and their children, spouses in a marriage, or an actor playing a role.

“It’s not ‘you make that decision and that’s it,’” Driver said. “It’s not as easy as that.”

As in one’s relationship with God, Driver emphasized the importance of faith in one’s relationships with others, especially when it comes to honoring a commitment in times of trial.

“It’s filled with doubt, and second-guessing yourself, and insecurity, and misery. It doesn’t always have to be that, but it often is — it’s never just as simple as ‘you’ve made the decision’ and everything can rest easy on that.”

Driver said he turned to a familiar Catholic saint as he sought to make his character, Jesuit Father Garrpe, relatable to people outside of a religious context. “In our getting ready for it, I based him on St. Peter, because I thought that that image made sense to me as someone who is very committed but can’t help but question and doubt every step of the way,” Driver said.

This image of faith tested by doubt helped Driver find the center of his Jesuit character, who struggles to honor his faith commitments even when persecution shakes the certainty of his beliefs.

“That kind of faith, in a way to me above anything, again outside of a religious context, makes sense,” Driver said. “It’s eventually more healthy to think of approaching everything not with this idea that you know the right answer or that you’re completely convinced that you know what you’re saying is right.”

At the Castro Theatre screening, Driver was joined in the panel conversation by costar Andrew Garfield and director Martin Scorsese, among others.

Scorsese, continuing the theme of his recent video interview with America’s James Martin, S.J., talked about his Catholic faith, his time in a preparatory seminary, and how he in some ways “never left” the seminary even after he was kicked out — or, as he put it jokingly, was “invited to leave” — since he later channeled that same passion into cinema.

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Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

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